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“Birth” — a Moment by John Carnett (audio/video)

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

By Larry Smith

When I first put out the call for “Moments” on SMITH a few years ago, I kept the prompt fairly vague. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about a community of storytellers it’s that when the community starts responding to a prompt, they’ll define it in a way that the prompter often hadn’t imagined. That said, when people asked for guidance I told them this: a life-changing moment should be something quite personal and specific to your life, but conveyed in a way that connects to a universal feeling, truth or idea. “And, btw,” I told people, “please no births, Bar Mitzvahs, Sweet Sixteens or weddings”—we’ve all read plenty about those life passages by now. So it’s an irony not lost on me that one of the Moments I keep coming back to is about the thing I discouraged the most: life’s very beginning.

I met legendary Popular Science staff photographer John B. Carnett in 2006 while reporting a story on a Jetpack inventor in Cuernavaca, Mexico. We became friends, and years later as I started to put this book together I asked John to share one image and a few hundred words to reflect a moment that rocked his wild range of experiences. It’s no exaggeration to say that John has taken thousands of photographs of some of the most inventive people, places and things in the world. And yet John’s life-changing moment was about the photo he idn’t take. He narrates his story below.

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